Joseph Anderson

Yeats, “The Song of Wandering Angus”

I went down to the hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head.
I cut and peeled a hazel wand
And hooked a berry to a thread.
And when white moths were on the wing
And mothlike stars were flickering out
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

There is a wonderful book on shamanism in the Celtic tradition called Fire in the Head. This poem by W.B. Yeats is a beautiful expression of the Celtic imagination engaged with the mysteries I often encounter in my own shamanic practice.  We could talk all day (and hopefully will sometime!) about the relationship between Yeats’ late-Victorian and Irish-nationalist frame of reference and whatever ancient practices may have existed…but that is not my purpose here.  Let’s ride with Yeats:

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame.
But something rustled on the floor
And someone called me by my name.
It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair.
She called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

“She called me by my name.”  Such a powerful phrase of recognition – to be truly seen and known, and called.  I think of Biblical stories of naming, Abram becoming Abraham and Jacob becoming Israel.  So I ask myself, “when did the universe call me by my name?”  When did I know that there was a purpose for me, a higher reality calling me to become a part of it?  I find myself now seeking to realize that vision, imparted so long ago.

The silver trout who becomes a “glimmering girl” correlates to my experience of divine guidance that comes in the shamanic state of consciousness.  How many times, as the drumbeat carries me to spirit lands, have I encountered creatures who shapeshift like that!  I have learned to relax in the face of those experiences, to keep listening to the wisdom that comes in the appearance of sacred beings, but also in their departure.  Although we wish it were not so, it is not the nature of the sacred to stay in one place.  Neither Jesus nor Buddha set up permanent residence with their disciples. OK, so the girl is gone.  Now what happens?

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and hold her hands
And walk among long dappled grass
And pluck, till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun.

Like Angus, I find I have “grown old [or at least middle aged] with wandering” in search of the fulfillment of that original vision. I find hope in Angus’ declaration: “I will find out where she has gone.”  No matter the dark places (“hollow lands”) or difficult challenges (“hilly lands”) I have faced, I must not, will not give up on pursuing the manifestation of my true identity.

The shamanic path is a path of longing, of pursuing hidden and mysterious forces that will not stay still, but that always promise deeper and richer experience.  There is satisfaction, there is resolution, but there are always deeper mysteries to uncover.  What a joy there is in that seeking!